"First and last, it's a question of money. Those men who own the earth make the laws to protect what they have. They fix up a sort of fence or pen around what they have, and they fix the law so the fellow on the outside cannot get in. The laws are really organized for the protection of the men who rule the world. They were never organized or enforced to do justice. We have no system for doing justice, not the slightest in the world."
Reading this morning’s headlines about A.I.G. utilizing $165 million of their $170 billion tax payer financed bailout for bonuses, reminded me of Darrow’s insight. The excuse being offered after all is that a “contract is a contract” and A.I.G. must fulfill their obligations.
Isn’t it curious how contracts are deemed sacrosanct for Wall Street beneficiaries but not blue-collar members of unions in the auto industry? Unions are expected to get “realistic” and “ renegotiate” their contracts but moneyed elites are allowed to carry on as before. Anyone who has the temerity to point out the contradiction is “unreasonable,” “angry,” “extreme,” or heaven forbid, one of those “crazy left wing bloggers.”
For what it’s worth, I personally believe all demographics must ultimately sacrifice for the greater good during this calamity. Unlike its imperial antecedents, the American empire has largely serviced the purpose of consumer excess – especially for the top. With America’s empire in decline, all hands must now be on deck to reverse our society’s cascade of ruin as we develop a new socio-economic paradigm, absent the perks and burdens of a hyper-power.
That means a tough transition for all of us as we cease to consume a quarter of the world’s resources, work to extricate ourselves from Beijing bankers and end our addiction to military conflict as a means of resolving disputes. Nonetheless, how can any president ask Americans to accept their health benefits being taxed, when A.I.G. is permitted to distribute unseemly bonuses after their conduct precipitated the current crisis? Bottom line, the worst insurance company in history is utilizing our tax dollars to reward their employees with bonuses, while the rest of us are treading water and being asked to shed even more skin.
I suspect most people understand we have to change in order to bring about change. That was my sense during the campaign as I canvassed and phonebanked. Indeed, as the Jon Stewart showdown with CNBC’s Jim Cramer illustrated, Americans are finally ready for hard truths after lies about WMD’s in Iraq while warning signs with respect to the current economic crisis were ignored. People are just desperate enough now to respond to hard truth if it’s backed up with a coherent strategy and the pain is absorbed fairly.
Alas, asking people who are currently teetering on the abyss to sacrifice has no credibility given the circumstances and messengers. How could it when tax-cheat Timothy Geithner and his plutocratic deregulating mentor from the Clinton Administration, Larry Summers, continue to subsidize thieves? The good people of A.I.G. are like the proverbial bank robbers holding bags of nitroglycerin. Give us your money they say or we’ll drop our nitroglycerin bags on what’s left of the global economy. So we continue to appease them.
Now in fairness to President Obama, he inherited what can only be described as a cluster fuck. And he hasn’t even been in office two months. Furthermore, much of the so-called political opposition as well as the establishment that critiques him, are simultaneously insipid and disingenuous. As I wrote a few days ago,
“Already you’re hearing voices question whether President Obama’s is pushing too much at once on the ‘system.’ These voices sound reasonable when they claim we should ‘fix the economy first’ and worry about health-care, energy and education later. They're enablers of capitalism’s dark underbelly, hoping to run out the clock on President Obama’s popularity and continue business as usual.”Hence, I largely support the goals of President Obama’s proposed budget and have contempt for this “establishment” that failed to address the very challenges he dares to take on. Clarence Darrow would certainly recognize those that oppose Obama’s agenda as elites making laws to “protect what they have” at the expense of everyone else.
Yet each day that passes without the Obama administration implementing a credible, transparent and coherent strategy to address America’s banking and housing crisis, only serves to further tighten the Gordian knot of economic calamity. This week we're supposed to hear more from Secretary Geithner about his plans to resolve these challenges with a “public-private” partnership. I don’t have much faith in Geithner, an upwardly mobile tax-cheating plutocrat who previously served at the New York Federal Reserve Bank and engineered the TARP legislation that passed last fall.
So even though it hasn’t even been two months since Obama’s inaugural, a famous Yogi Berra quote also comes to mind:
“It gets late early around here.”
Update: The San Francisco Chronicle reports that A.I.G.'s bonus payout totals $450 million.